Fight or blight

Rainy day tomatoesPretty safe to say that it’s not going to be a great tomato year. If we’re very very lucky maybe we’ll get some honker waterlogged fruit with split skins but conditions are apparently favorable for something even less delicious. Late Blight is all over the news and typical of the media we have been primed for panic and widespread tomato mayhem. Truth be told, I am generally irritated by the culture of fear promoted by the press – it’s one of my pet peeves – but the more I read about Late Blight, the more I think “eeu”.

Phytophthora infestans (- can’t you just tell that this is something disgusting?) is the same disease that wiped out potatoes during the Great Famine in Ireland and could do (has done) the same in any monoculture of tomatoes or potatoes here if we don’t keep a keen eye out. The recommendation for anyone growing tomatoes is to check for infestation daily and bag up, throw out, Do Not Compost any plants that show any signs of the disease (for pictures and info, click here). But what really scares the daylights out of me is that we’ve collectively been advised to spray fungicides with clorothalonil – a skull & crossbones carcinogenic – as a preventive measure. Now, I can understand commercial growers doing this to protect their crops and livelihoods, but homeowners? Come on. We’re not growing a monoculture in our gardens – are we? How about we just enjoy something else this year? I for one will gladly pay a ransom especially for an organically grown, disease-free tomato if I have to and would be much happier and probably healthier if my neighbors upwind choose to do the same. And it seems to be a terrific Swiss chard, cabbage and lettuce year…3 rows to watch in the vegetable bed - and cabbage consolation.

So far, Blithewold’s tomatoes are clean. The fungus, which overwinters on living tissue, must not have found any errant potato tubers left in the garden. And since we grow our own tomatoes from seed, we haven’t imported it either. But the weather isn’t on our side. Cool-ish days and nights (60-80°F) coupled with humidity and rain – we’ve had plenty of that – are ideal for spreading infection from garden to garden and as long as that continues we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled. (A stretch of stupidly hot weather, if we ever get the summer blaze we’re used to, will knock the disease out of contention.)

How are your tomatoes? Have you sprayed – or will you?